Stimulating Childhood Imagination Even in Difficult Times
HAVANA TIMES – One, two, three and four… whoever isn’t hidden loses, we whispered quietly to Daniel. He smiled with an innocence that infected us and for a second, we forgot that hide and seek was just a strategy for us to distract him from what was happening around us. Hiding in a dark banana plantation, Daniel thought it was a game.
When we made the difficult journey through Central America towards the United States with two small children, our imaginations accompanied us at all times, along with fear.
Emma was very young and didn’t realize what was happening, although I think I passed on my stress a lot, even though I tried to keep it in check. She’d open her eyes scared. Daniel, aware as always, asked about everything. That’s why we had to tell him that there were duendes (magical spirits) living up on the mountain tops that protected children. On the edge of a dangerous ravine in Honduras, we told him we were on a secret mission and that we were undercover superheros that had to save the world.
Our imaginations saved us during those tense weeks, and it was Daniel’s best friend. He remembers the trip like a game and the fantasies we invented were also somehow a talisman to protect ourselves too.
When we had to run, hide or cross over rivers, we turned to our imaginations to ease the tension. Sometimes, it was hard for us to invent other realities when the things we were experiencing were so dangerous, but we managed to smile in the toughest of times with the things Daniel came up with or Emma unexpectedly breaking out in a fit of laughter.
My imagination was my playmate and travel companion when I was little. When I grew older, I always kept it close as a place of refuge and inspiration. However, ever since I’ve become a mother, my imagination has grown in an astonishing way and has become an essential tool to get through our day-to-day.
When I was giving Daniel a bath recently, he told me that he sometimes made himself really really small and he’d go down the plughole in the bath to reach the Moon, and that the dinosaurs lived there, hiding away. I’m surprised by the things he comes up with every day, his fantasies, and I try to enter the imaginary world we build together while he also discovers the real world.
It’s our job to accompany them in developing their creativity, letting them do their things while also encouraging their ability to learn and dream about dinosaurs on the Moon.
Children’s imagination and their development
Every child is unique and develops their imagination at their own pace. Why do we need to encourage it from a young age?
The imagination is a key skill in children’s development and it’s important to stimulate it so they can explore the world surrounding them and develop their creativity. A child with a lot of imagination can solve problems, create alternative responses to different situations and relate with the world in a more positive and healthier way.
We have always heard children have a great imagination and it’s true. Now I have two small children in the house, I’ve been able to enjoy their fantasies like another little girl and sometimes, I find it incredible how they’re able to create stories and pictures that don’t exist in the real world.
Daniel is a child with an incredible imagination. We can see his inventiveness in his answers, that allow him to interact with the world and create his own individual view.
He also demonstrates his empathy towards others with his imagination and seeks answers to his feelings and emotions. He recently told us that there was a sea monster on the beach who was always grumpy because he needed a hug, and that we had to go find him so he wouldn’t be alone.
The plastic pen that we all sit together in has become a submarine, a cardboard box has become a flying carpet and a sheet has become a camel that took us to the pyramids in Egypt. Here, the imagination is an inseparable friend who helps us to play, learn and dream.
“Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world,” Albert Einstein wrote. We, as parents and with the tools we have, must reinvent ourselves and get away from reality to answer our children’s frequent questions.
For example, when Daniel asked us where we were living now, we pointed out the exact spot on a map and told him where we’d come from. We told him about the countries we crossed and he could see the journey with his own eyes.
Thus, they are able to construct their reality of the world, between their imagination and what they’re able to materialize. The mind is a turbulent sea, which is never still, and is always moving and evolving. Fantasy and what we imagine can help us to understand our surroundings and nourish the gigantic waves of knowledge.
What can we adults do to help children develop their imaginations and creativity?
As adults we have to keep our feet firmly planted on the Earth (because of our responsibilities and the challenges that make us grow), as the popular saying goes. We’ve lost the ability to feed our fantasies amidst reality along the way. But we need to.
Experts warn about the screen time children are currently spending; as well as the dangers of this kind of lifestyle that doesn’t allow for them to get bored and can affect the development of their creativity.
After Emma was born, during the first few months of so many changes when we also had to start over from scratch in a new country, it was hard for us to readjust ourselves to Daniel’s needs and pick up on the learning and creativity activities we used to do together.
We had to put on the TV for him a lot of the time, even though I didn’t want to, so we could settle in and tend to Emma’s needs as a baby. During the journey we made towards the US, the cellphone with cartoons on mute was an escape for Daniel to keep calm when we needed him to during countless moments of tension.
Luckily, we’ve managed to set new routines and his screen time is practically zero now because we’ve managed to pick up on fun scenarios that help us to travel the world without leaving out home (while the imagination is a much-needed support for everyday tasks).
Sometimes, everyday situations and responsibilities force us to look for quick ways to entertain the children while we sort things out as adults. It’s inevitable and I think every parent has had to do this at some point. We’ve had to put cartoons on a little longer or give them a cellphone so they calm down and give us a chance to sort out our everyday problems. Nevertheless, as parents, we need to prevent these practices from becoming commonplace because they can harm a child’s development in the long-term. We try to adapt as much as we can so we can spend quality time with our children and accompany them on their discovery of the world.
The ability to create is key. Human beings create themselves, they reinvent themselves and build themselves over their lives. Facilitating this process from a young age is crucial so children can become people in the future who accept change and new situations that encourage their personal happiness.
Activities at home to stimulate the imagination
Here are some of the more regular activities, taken from our own everyday experience, which we do to stimulate our children’s imagination.
We love costumes and we come up with stories and create characters together. We make up scenes with fabric and use recycled materials to make the most incredible objects. We search for treasure in the house while we dress up as pirates and a cardboard box serves as our ship. We let Daniel make up the details and tell us the adventure. We can propose the game, but we encourage the children to tell us more about the story, if there’s a mysterious island or a whale. So, we make a whale out of a towel, which we can visualize thanks to our imagination.
Children can invent new shapes and develop their imaginations by drawing, painting or making crafts. Daniel is three years old so he uses colored pencils, crayons and watercolors, but we use other strategies with Emma to stimulate her own sensory development. We put different color paints in a plastic bag, close it, stick it on the ground or on a dining chair and let her make different shapes with her fingers while the colors mix. We also encourage her to tear paper, we cut paper and make paintings with the palms of her hand and feet. Sometimes, I end up becoming a canvas, full of colors and scribbles.
Dancing and music also encourage fantasy. Sometimes, we use a simple song to imitate animals, invent movements or Daniel gives us a choreography that his sister tries to copy.
When children read, they can visualize characters and places in their mind, which helps them to develop their ability to imagine. In our case, we read stories to them – because they’re still very young – and they see the pictures in the books. They also make up their own stories. Reading almost always ends up with improvised stories.
Toys and recycled materials
Some toys (such as building blocks, dolls or board games) are an excellent option for us to develop children’s imaginations. We have built imaginary worlds and a thousand different shapes out of Lego that give way to strange characters whom we share the most incredible afternoons with. We also use recycled materials a lot in our house. Neighbors in the building bring us some boxes because they know that we transform them into planes, tractors and kitchens with stoves and an oven. Nowadays, we are making a fire truck with a box to visit a nearby station and learn a little bit about different professions.
“The imagination creates reality…”
We are Emma and Daniel’s companions on their incredible journey. Even though we help them to discover the world and teach them some basic techniques to create, we also give them the freedom to dream and construct their own images.
We can suggest they paint a tree, but every tree is seen differently by each and every one of us. At home, instead of drawing tree branches Daniel prefers to stick real leaves and flowers that we find around us. They also explore and investigate like this, which allows them to learn information in a more detailed and precise way, based on their experiences and senses.
When I was six or seven years old, I created a fairy world in my imagination. I still have detailed memories of that imaginary world. The fountain in the middle of the city, the fairies’ colors depending on their mood, the library of books written in fairy dust and the feathers of their wings.
One afternoon, a friend from school came to play with me and the description of this fairy world was so clear that we both traveled there with our eyes closed, while she told me she could see the fountain and the fairies flying around us.
When I grew up, I held onto my imagination somewhat, and it’s helped me to overcome my most difficult moments. That’s why when we were heading for the US, I created an entire magical world for Daniel, a world where reality wouldn’t affect him as much, a world where magical spirits on the mountain tops would always take care of us.
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